Music Supervisor Peymon Maskan Makes Ads That Don't Skip a Beat

It's all about tunes driving narratives

Growing up, Peymon Maskan, a first-generation Iranian-American, loved sharing music with his friends and introducing them to new bands. "That stuff was exciting to me. I think it's probably because I'm Persian, and I have a weird name like Peymon, and my way of indicating 'I am part of this culture' was by mastering or understanding it on a level so thorough, no one could ever doubt my culture credentials," he says.

Maskan didn't realize that he could make a career in the music industry until he studied film at the University of Southern California. While working as an assistant to director John Herzfeld on the feature 15 Minutes, Maskan was exposed to the art of music supervision by Dana Sano. "I'm watching her do what she does, and it all clicked. I was like, 'Oh my God, I want to do that,'" Maskan says.

Maskan served as music coordinator of the 2002 surfing flick Blue Crush, for which Sano was the supervisor. He then worked on dozens of films and TV shows before joining Apple's bespoke agency TBWA\Media Arts Lab in 2012. There, he rose to the position of global music director.

In 2020, he left TBWA\MAL to found Radish, a Los Angeles-based company that specializes in music supervision for ads, films, TV and streaming series. Maskan, who also holds the title of executive creative director, currently works on the upcoming Netflix series A Man in Full, as well as the film Monkey Man (actor Dev Patel's directorial debut).

He's busy with ad work, too. Recent credits include the MLB's "Baseball Is Something Else" spot that finds an all-star roster of bobbleheads nodding to Yello's '80s fave "Oh Yeah."

Earlier in Radish's formation, Maskan worked with Lil Nas X on the Super Bowl and Grammy ads for Logitech that launched the song "Montero (Call Me by Your Name)," and he was the music supervisor on The Fallout. Streaming on Max, the film was scored by composer Finneas O'Connell. Maskan had previously worked with O'Connell—Billie Eilish's brother and creative partner—during his days at TBWA\MAL, when the siblings created "Come Out and Play" for Apple's "Share Your Gifts" ad, which won a Grand Clio for music in 2018.

Here, Maskan, who is heading up the Music Supervision Jury for the 2023 Clio Awards, explains exactly what a music supervisor does and offers tips for agencies and creatives seeking to more effectively communicate their music preferences.

MUSE: First of all, let's define what a music supervisor does. 

Peymon Maskan: We're a bridge between the music industry and the visual storytelling industries. At our best, we're creating a vision for a project, or we're guiding a director's vision, or we're executing great ideas in music. It breaks down in my mind into creativity, commerce, craft and strategy. Those are the aspects that I would consider the different levers of the job. And we apply those to the storytelling business.

You did a lot of work for Apple, but can you pick a favorite?

I was able to work with Hudson Mohawke on an unreleased song ["Chimes"] that he finished and released simultaneously with an ad, which was more of a film behavior. It was the "Stickers" ad. It was just love for all the stickers people put on the back of their MacBooks, and it is set to music. It was a fun process—just sitting with the creatives and playing music and being able to find something really unexpected. 

What did it feel like to help this artist find a larger audience?

It was incredible, because when you're learning what your voice is—sometimes for me it was a little bit of a struggle of, "What do I want, and what do I think other people want?" And when the thing I got excited about got everybody else excited, it was very affirming. It allowed me to trust my instincts and understand how things that I really was excited about could play on a much bigger stage and tell bigger stories.

When would you recommend that a client or an agency bring a music supervisor into a project?

[I can't count] the number of times I've been hired on something, and I'm like, "Oh, if you had just called me two months ago, I could have saved you money and really helped the creative." It's almost always too late. The beauty of Apple is, it's done at the script stage.

You got spoiled by that approach.

Totally! Every place is set up differently. So, if your agency is set up in a way that the impact of music can be harnessed early, it's super beneficial. A lot of what my company Radish does is plan a music strategy for an agency to present to their clients so that everyone can get on the same page about vocabulary and vibe and what does the brand sound like. We'll do all this work to pave the road so that when it comes to actually creating the ad, these conversations [about music] go smoothly. It takes a lot to actually be able to do ads that are driven by music even when that conversation happens early. If it's an agency-wide value, it takes an agency-wide effort to make it go beyond the creatives and the music supervisor. Everyone's got to align early.

Let's talk about some recent ad work out of Radish. "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for Jeep Grand Cherokee features an orchestral version of the iconic song, and it's a pleasant surprise.

They came to us with the idea of wanting to do an interpolation of that song. The trick with that song is it's melodically all over the place. It's made to be chanted, and when you make something to be chanted, you can do these wild melodic swings. That can get a little wonky when you're trying to get some emotion out of it. We were able to work with a young composer, Taylor Lipari-Hassett, who works with Rob Simonsen [the composer behind Darron Aronofsky's The Whale].

You also worked on the Apple+ Major League Soccer Season Pass intro, which has an exciting, propulsive energy that really gets one into the headspace of watching a game.

What really works about that, I think, is it comes at a place where you're transitioning from a pre-game moment to inside the stadium, and you're about to watch a match. And although you're in your home, that's kind of what's happening. So the thinking was, what's this transition? How do we make it? How do we draw you in? How do we make it something that when you hear it, you're already excited about the match, and it just becomes a theme, becomes an anthem. So, these raw drums, this tribalism, that percussive nature—these are all ideas that fit that sport. And then, all the voices singing in unison evokes what people love about the game. The responses online are cool. People really love it. People look forward to it.

Music can be difficult to describe, especially for people who don't have a musical background. How can clients at agencies best communicate their thoughts to music supervisors like yourself?

What's that quote? "Talking about music is dancing about architecture." Music is music. It is communication. So, unless you can talk music, there's always translation involved. My favorite direction is when they talk to me as they would an actor and let me know what they want the audience to experience. If you can come at me like that, I'll give you the idea you expect and the opposite of what you expect. I'll give you the thing you forgot you loved, and I'll give you the thing that is your next favorite song. If you can give me that same kind of direction you would give to an actor, then, typically, I can make a lot of choices based on that.

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